Friday, February 28, 2014

This Is Your Life

In the 1950s there was a show on television called This Is Your Life.  The premise of the show was to bring a surprise guest on stage with a live studio audience where the host would narrate various parts of the person’s life while bringing influential people related to different stories in to reunite with the guest of honor.

Today I was reminded of this show when I said to myself, “I can’t believe this is my life.”  At the time I was sitting in the dark, in my house, with a headlamp on my forehead trying to read a book.  Sometime last night Gaborone lost power throughout the entire city.  Who knows?  It could have been the entire country without power.  By this morning we still didn’t have electricity.  I went to campus thinking they had some generators running and I could at the very least charge my laptop so I could get some work done offline.  Since the entire city was without power the university decided not to run the generators because it would simply take up too much energy.  As of 9pm tonight we still didn’t have any power, hence why I was sitting in my dark house, with a headlamp reading a book.

As I sat there thinking to myself that I never imagined this becoming my normal way of life I was reminded of what happened the previous day.  Yesterday I was on campus and went to use the bathroom.  As I opened the stall door and took a step in I looked down and realized THERE WAS A COBRA ON THE FLOOR!  The think the cobra incident was the pinnacle of the “I can’t believe this is my life” realization.  I backed out of the stall and went to report the cobra to security.

The best part about the cobra situation is that there is actually a procedure in place for how to handle it.  I’ve said before that I consider safety a major low point here in Botswana.  Back in the U.S. we have annual active shooter trainings we must attend.  And you would never dream of exceeding the maximum number of students permitted in a classroom because it would be a fire code violation.  None of those things are a concern here.  BUT!  If there is a snake everyone knows how to handle it.  It turns out you call the army.

Since Botswana is considered the most peaceful country in Africa it is almost pointless that we have an army.  And in the unlikely event that we actually went to war we would be doomed.  There have been countless newspaper articles over the past year about how the army uses their weapons so infrequently that in recent training exercises only one in three soldiers can hit a target. (A 5’x5’ stationary target by the way.)  Turns out the army can’t hit targets because they are busy catching snakes.  No, really!  One of the primary roles of the army is wild animal control and extraction.  So if you have a lion in your backyard you call the army and they come catch it.  I haven’t witnessed the lion extraction, but I must say, they did a standout job getting rid of the cobra.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A New Meaning for the Term Authoritarian

I’m not entirely against the idea of authoritarian rule.  To a certain extent parents are authoritarian, at least until their children reach a reasonable age.  I’m sure all my graduate students probably describe me as being authoritarian, “You are going to take this Statistics class.  You are going to enjoy it and use this statistical method whether you like it or not.  I don’t care what Dr. So-and-so’s students are doing.  As long as I am your chair this is what you are going to do because it is good for you.”  But I think there is a limit to just how far authoritarianism should go.  I realized the necessity of limits to authoritarian rule recently.

Here in Botswana we are in the midst of a marriage ban.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you are a Batswana citizen you MAY NOT GET MARRIED.

The marriage ban was instituted back in September 2013 and is scheduled to continue through March 2014.  However, there is a lot of discussion regarding whether the ban will actually end or be extended.  Why ban marriages?  Because the Batswana royal family wants citizens to concentrate on arable farming.  I have no clue how those two are related.

Keep in mind, marriage has nothing to do with children.  Having children is a given.  Getting married is optional.  Most couples have at least one child before getting married here.  As a woman in my mid-30s no one really blinks when I say I’m single.  However, the follow up question is always, “Well, how many children do you have?” When I say I don’t have any the typical response is either, “Shame,” “Why not?” or “Are you sick?” (implying the inability to actually have children).

Point being, the marriage ban has not resulted in a drop in the birthrate.  As a lay person who knows nothing about children, marriage or arable farming I would deduce that having children would prevent arable farming because you are busy taking care of the kids instead of working in the fields.  I wouldn’t think marriage would impede arable farming.  Nevertheless, the marriage ban exists.

The problem with the marriage ban is that it is having repercussions throughout the economy.  In my class we always talk about the economic impact of the events industry.  THIS is a real life example.  A recent newspaper article stated that hospitality businesses, particularly those which center around photography; tent rentals; floral and d├ęcor; DJs, bands, entertainers and other sound/AV equipment providers; printing (invitations and stationary); caterers and of course hotel and banquet hall facilities have suffered considerably since the ban took effect.  In fact, some businesses have been unable to pay their monthly bills and bank loans due to lack of income.

I know there has been a lot of discussion around the world recently about gay marriage.  And everyone has an opinion.  I have no desire to get into a debate with anyone here.  But the marriage ban has simply made me wonder, what if no one was allowed to get married?  What if marriage became extinct?  I suppose if the desire for arable farming becomes too great, perhaps it could.  I don’t know.  The one thing I will say is that Botswana has enough of a fidelity problem without the added encouragement by preventing marriages. It will certainly be interesting to see if the ban is overturned next month or if it persists.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Will Africa Ever Host the Olympics?

In my former career as an event planner I thought I had seen it all.  There were a lot of close calls and a few dicey situations which would make even the calm, cool and collected sweat.  Over the years I was pepper sprayed in the face, knocked unconscious, had toes broken, broke up a fight between two rappers who pulled knives (and then guns) on one another, almost had a horse fall off a stage (with a famous country singer on his back), had an elephant die 20 minutes before we opened the doors to a show with several thousand people waiting outside, found a dead body, assisted with a hostage situation and convinced the Las Vegas Police Department NOT to arrest Ted Nugent when he brought a gun into a casino.  I’m sure there are others which I am forgetting, but these stick out as most memorable.  In retrospect, these were a cake walk compared to my current project.

Right now Gaborone is gearing up to host the 2014 African Youth Games.  Between May 22 and 31, we will play host to about 2,500 youth athletes from all 54 African countries who will be competing in 21 different sports.  No, bobsledding is not one of the sports.  Thankfully it looks like we won’t have the challenges Sochi had during the Olympics.  We will just have slightly different challenges.

Since Gaborone is less than four hours driving distance from Johannesburg, South Africa, the host of the 2010 World Cup, the city hoped to cash in on the close proximity.  So in 2008 (two years before the 2010 World Cup) Botswana decided to renovate its National Stadium.  The plan was to have the stadium available for practice sessions and scrimmages for teams arriving in Africa early.  The renovation was finally completed in October (of 2013).  Welcome to Africa! Better late than never.  Thankfully the poor planning for the 2010 renovation is now benefitting the 2014 event.

One of the fortunate things about the Youth Games is that we aren’t building any new facilities.  We are using several venues on the UB campus, the National Stadium and other national arenas, the Gaborone Golf Club and the Gaborone Dam.  There is a slight possibility those last two venues could be a challenge though.  I don’t know how the handicaps are calculated when the monkeys steal your golf balls and warthogs don’t repair their own divots.  I suspect the dam will also prove problematic.  Last week I mentioned the dam is at less than 10% capacity.  I have to believe rowing through mud will take a lot more upper body strength than rowing through water.  And with 85 days to go we will likely have significantly less water in the dam by the time the games begin.

A student recently asked if I thought any African country would ever host the Olympics.  I hate to be the downer, but I told her realistically I didn’t think it would happen.  Months ago I had asked a friend who was on the 2010 South African World Cup committee if SA would consider an Olympic bid.  He said absolutely not.  And after seeing the limitations in trying to plan something much smaller like the 2014 African Youth Games, I can’t imagine any African country being prepared to host something larger.  There has been a lot of speculation about what will come of the infrastructure built specifically for the Sochi Games.  Countless former Olympic hosts have been unable to utilize their facilities after the games, leading to venues either falling into disrepair or being completely abandoned.  In fact there are currently talks going on regarding demolishing the Cape Town stadium which was used during the World Cup since it costs more than tenfold to maintain it annually than it generates in income.

There is speculation that the U.S. will put in a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which would make it more than two decades in between hosting.  Of course, the International Olympic Committee is more concerned with awarding the games to new, up and coming destinations which have never hosted.  This means the U.S. could be knocked out of the running rather quickly.  Maybe that will be my next event, once we wrap the 2014 Gaborone Games of course.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

In general, I’m not really into flowers.  I think they are pretty and everything, but I don’t know the names of any and it is highly unlikely I will ever plant a garden.  But living in a country which is largely desert I was happy to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens when I was in Cape Town last week. 
And since it was so nice I figured I would share a few of the pictures I took at the garden:

The Agapanthus:
The Fireball Lily:
And the Streptocarpus Lilliputana (sounds like a disease):

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hiking Table Mountain

Since I am here in Cape Town, home of Table Mountain, one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it.  Actually, I can see it from my guesthouse, but I wanted to visit because it is billed as giving the best views of Cape Town.  You can take a two minute cable car ride up to the top, but I decided to take the hard way up.  So I spent four hours this morning hiking up the mountain.  Aside from a few cuts and bruises sustained while scrambling up the rock face, I had a great time:
Here you can see the cable car (i.e. the easy way up) in the background:
These are the Twelve Apostles, which is a misleading name as there are really seventeen cliffs, though you can’t see them all clearly in this picture:
View of Cape Town from about a quarter of the way up the mountain:
Once we reached the top there were two ways to descend, the easy way, and the not so easy way:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Visit to Prison (i.e. Robben Island)

After I checked in to my guest house here in Cape Town yesterday the owner/manager invited me out for dinner after he heard I was a professor of tourism.  We spent most of the time swapping war stories of working in the hotel business, but he also asked me what I intended to do while I was here.  I mentioned I planned to go to Robben Island.  “Why would you want to do that?” he responded.

I guess it never occurred to me to come to Cape Town and then skip Robben Island.  I just assumed it was a requirement.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200: Do not visit Robben Island, do not gain admission to the airport to leave.  So, today I went to Robben Island.

Robben is the Dutch word for seal.  The island was given its name due to the thousands of seals living there.  How many seals did I see today?  Not one.

In order to get to Robben Island you have to take a small ferry about 45 minutes across the harbor.  Once you arrive you are hustled onto buses and shuttled around the island.  Prior to becoming a prison Robben Island was a leper colony.  With the exception of the church, all the buildings from the time of the leper colony were destroyed due to the fear that “the walls may be infected and cause others to contract the disease.”

But we were able to see all the buildings associated with the prison as well as the present day village.  About 130 people live on the island full time, including former prisoners, four former prison guards and their families.  Once the bus tour concludes you are dropped off at the main prison itself.  All the tours of the prison are actually given by former prisoners.  My tour guide, Itumetse, was arrested and sent to Robben Island in 1983; he was released in 1990.

I haven’t really spent much time in prisons, so I’m not really sure what I expected.  There wasn’t very much to see.  Here is one of the watchtowers overlooking the prison yards:
And here is a picture of one of the prison yards where prisoners spent their “free time” when not in their cells:
One of the things I learned during my visit that surprised me was that the prisoners placed a high value on education.  If you look at many of the former prisoners of Robben Island, including Mandela as the most prominent, they are all politicians.  Several are (or previously were) government ministers, the Chief Justice of South Africa, and members of parliament.  I always wondered how this was possible.  While their fame associated with Robben Island may have carried them relatively far in their careers, I expected they had to have some level of intelligence in order to make them able to perform their jobs.  It turns out that Robben Island is what gave them that education.  All prisoners were given access to advanced learning and peer pressure was used to ensure they all participated and took advantage of it.

For the prisoners who were considered “leaders” (Mandela fell into this category) they were sentenced to hard labor, working in the lime quarry.  Initially they were told they would only work there for six months, but in reality the lime quarry was operational for 13 years.  For the first 11 years they were given no protective equipment, which resulted in numerous health problems for many of them.  Most of the prisoners working there had significant damage to their eyes, so much so that most have ineffective tear ducts, meaning they can’t cry, and they cannot stand bright light, so going outside without sunglasses, or having their picture taken with a flash is particularly painful.  The quarry itself doesn’t look impressive, but I’m sure anyone who spent time there found it incredibly memorable:
Naturally, everyone who goes to Robben Island wants to see Nelson Mandela’s cell.  It is one of about 40 identical cells, but there is one aspect which distinguishes it from the others.  As one woman on my tour exclaimed, “Oh look! It’s furnished!”  I’m not sure most of us would consider this “furnished” but apparently this was standard issue for prisoners there:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Don’t Tell Anyone This, But….

When I decided to go to Botswana one of the first things I was happy about was that it was safe to drink the water.  This may sound like a minor detail, but in many countries, particularly countries in Africa, that is far from possible.  In Sierra Leone the parasites in the water were so dangerous that I wore swimming goggles when I took a shower.  I doused my face with bottled water when I woke up in the morning to wash away the morning grogginess.  And I had to have all my clothes (underwear and socks as well) ironed because despite being washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer, it was still possible to end up with parasites which would crawl underneath your skin and have to be cut out by a doctor if it happened.  Hence, the rejoicing over being able to drink the water in Botswana.

Of course, being able to drink the water is nice, but if the water doesn’t come out of the tap that’s another story.  I’ve mentioned before water restrictions and how we only have water in our homes about three to four days a week.  We haven’t gotten as much rain as they would hope for this year, so the dam is only at about 10% capacity.

About a week ago I woke up on a Sunday morning, headed out the door to the gym and halfway there doubled over in pain and had to return home.  I spent the entire day on the couch.  I didn’t actually get sick, but I had such severe stomach cramps I had no desire to eat, move or do anything.  The discomfort continued for several days, but each day the pain lessened.  By Thursday the stomach trouble was over.

On Friday I went out with a friend.  She is an environmental lawyer with the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources.  I told her about my past week of stomach pain and she became quiet.  She leaned over and quietly (I have NEVER seen her say anything quietly by the way) said, “Ok, don’t tell anyone this, but you shouldn’t drink the water.”  WHAT?!?!

Has anyone been following #sochiproblems?  Google it and you will be entertained for hours.  One journalist was tweeting comments and pictures from Sochi about the fact her hotel had no water.  She mentioned that she was told when the water finally came back on she shouldn’t wash her face with it because it was dangerous.  Not long after she posted a picture of two glasses of bright orange water with the caption: Now I know what dangerous face water looks like.

As I sat there listening to Tshepo tell me not to drink the water all I could think about was #sochiproblems.  I asked her to explain and she told me that about 200 kids had been hospitalized over the weekend from dangerous contaminants in the water.  But!  Here’s the important part of the story, “The government doesn’t want to cause a panic, so they aren’t putting out an official statement telling people to avoid the water.  They don’t want this made public.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought Botswana was a little more advanced than soviet-style censorship and putting citizens’ health in danger for PR purposes.

Good news is that I’m going to have some amazing guns by the time I get back to the U.S. because I have to walk about a mile each way to the store to buy bottled water.   And I figure I don’t want to waste the trip, so I always buy 2- 5 liter bottles.  I don’t want to be uneven or anything.

Here is the Gaborone Dam, which is really more like a puddle right about now.  All the grass you see in the foreground is typically covered in water when the dam is at the appropriate level:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Very Busy Few Months Ahead

One of the interesting aspects of being a Fulbrighter is that you are given a lot of freedom.  As long as you are fulfilling your obligations to your host institution it is up to you how you spend the rest of your time.  There are no hard and fast rules in terms of what you are expected to accomplish, which is a good thing as red-tape and politics can make some objectives much more difficult than others.
Last year before I came to Botswana I contacted another Fulbright Scholar.  I asked about the process you had to go through in order to get permission to do research.  She informed me it was much more arduous than in the U.S. and that while she had applied for a research permit in August it wasn’t granted until May.  She left in June.

Fortunately for me I didn’t have nearly as difficult of a time obtaining my permit and IRB approval to conduct my research.  But a lot of that is pure luck; catching the right person who actually knows the answer to your question on a day when they are happy and willing to help you. 

Over the past seven months I have been busy teaching, doing research and travelling.  Most of my travel has been work related for data collection or serving as a guest speaker at other universities, though some of it has been for fun as well.  Since I arrived back from Christmas I’ve had several tourism colleagues throughout the continent invite me to visit them at their universities to guest lecture for a few days.  In order to juggle all the requests, along with other side trips I wanted to take before I left I decided to sit down and plan out the next six months.  Thank goodness I did otherwise I would have never been able to squeeze in another commitment.  This is my calendar for the next six months.  All of the shaded blocks are when I am travelling:
To give you a rundown here is what is on my calendar:

Tomorrow: Head to Cape Town, South Africa for three days to teach at Stellenbosch University.
March: Johannesburg for three days to obtain my DRC visa and visit a colleague at Vaal University with whom I am writing an article.  Then on to Lesotho to visit some of our students currently there on internship.  From Lesotho, go to Mozambique to meet a fellow Fulbrighter for some fun. (This trip takes place during our mid-semester break.)
First week of April: Zanzibar, Tanzania to meet an Egyptian friend who lives in Nairobi, Kenya to hang out on the beach for a long weekend.
Middle-Late April: Fly to Kigali, Rwanda to teach at the Rwanda Tourism University College.  From there head to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo to teach at University of Goma and then climb the volcano over the weekend.  On the way home stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for three days to give Ethiopia a chance to redeem itself after the luggage fiasco.
May: Amanda and Ashleigh come to visit me in Botswana!  Finally, I get to play host to friends from home.
June: Back to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Then Dad comes to visit for 10 days and I get to show him around Botswana.  The day Dad departs I go to Mauritius where I am presenting two papers at a conference.
July: Perhaps return to the U.S.? 

I would have to say if nothing else I have certainly taken full advantage of my time here.  And I think Fulbright has also gotten its money’s worth. I may have to give my passport a rest whenever I finally make it back across the ocean.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day- Are you enjoying your chocolate?

Apparently it is Valentine’s Day. I had no idea.  If we celebrate it here then it has not reached the level of market saturation you see in the U.S.  This evening I had a Skype meeting with my graduate students, who wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day.  If they hadn’t said something I probably would have missed the holiday completely.

I don’t know about most of you, but Valentine’s Day reminds me of one thing- chocolate. In my time as a Hospitality & Tourism Professor I’ve spent a fair amount of time around chocolate.  And I’m not talking about the stuff in the grocery stores.  I’ve had three very distinct chocolate experiences on three different continents.  And they have all led me to one conclusion: I don’t eat chocolate.  I know, shocking, right?  (I will say there are a few exceptions to that rule).
I’ve spent a lot of time in France and Switzerland around chocolate.  Did you know that the chocolate candy you eat, the manufactured stuff, is typically less than 5% cocoa?  Hershey’s, Cadbury, Mars- most of their chocolate bars are chocolate flavored, not true cocoa.  I believe you can determine whether a piece of candy is truly chocolate based on price.  I remember watching a man in Paris at a Chocolaterie agonizing over which types of chocolates he wanted.  He eventually chose six, each about the size of a quarter and each different, costing an equivalent of about $20.  The kind of chocolate candy we have in the U.S. would never be considered real chocolate by any European, who typically have 75%+ cocoa in their confections.

Last year I took my students to Costa Rica.  We visited several chocolate plantations there.  While we didn’t get much chocolate candy, we did drink some hot chocolate.  But, again, it tastes nothing like we have here.  It is very bitter and not sweet at all.  You may be asking yourself, “Well then, why drink it?”  There it is more like coffee, but they don’t drink it with the frequency of coffee.  You often use chili powder to enhance the taste, and of course you can sweeten it, typically with honey or cane sugar.
The real king of chocolate though is West Africa.  West Africa supplies nearly 75% of the world’s cocoa, with Ivory Coast accounting for nearly 35%.  When I was in West Africa I visited a few small chocolate farms.  That’s the way the chocolate industry is organized here.  It is lots of small family farms handed down from generation to generation.  But their products are bought by major corporations through exporters.  The price given for the chocolate is so low that the farmers live at the poverty level.  In order to try to increase production to make their farms breakeven and make some kind of living, the farmers often utilize child and slave labor.  It is estimated that nearly 2 million children and slaves are involved in the production of chocolate in West Africa. Experts suggest that the price of chocolate would have to increase ten-fold in order to provide producers with a reasonable standard of living and make the use of child and slave labor extinct.  $10 Snickers bar anyone?

When I was on those chocolate farms in Sierra Leone I remember asking a farmer if he liked chocolate.  He said he had never eaten it.  I thought about it for a moment and realized I had never seen a chocolate product in any store in the country.  How odd is that to grow something and have no idea what it is really used for?  But I guess I could ask the same question of the consumers.  Have you ever seen real cacao?  Here is a cocoa pod:
Once the cocoa pods are ripe, they are picked and opened with a machete.  Inside is about 30-50 cocoa beans which are removed and fermented and then dried.  Here you can see what the beans look like inside the pod:
I sincerely hope you are all enjoying your Valentine’s Day, and chocolates, if you received them.  As for me, I will pass.

Friday, February 14, 2014

President Phelan, I Presume?

For the last two days I blogged about the time I spent working for the U.S. Embassy back in December on a youth exchange.  During that week I learned something very important: I will NEVER be a politician.  Feel free to quote this statement back to me if in 50 years I have a change of heart.  But I don’t think I will.

During the exchange we had three diplomats in tow: the U.S. Ambassador to Botswana, the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) of State to Africa.  My undergrad degree is in International Relations.  At one point I seriously considered going to work for the foreign service or another government agency, but fortunately I decided to forego those options.  Looking back on it, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.
Early on in the trip I realized I didn’t particularly fancy the DAS or the Bots Ambassador (BA).  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I definitely liked the Zim Ambassador (ZA) because he could hold a conversation.  But trying to talk to DAS and BA was like pulling teeth.  It was a lot of one word answers and unwillingness to give any details or go further in the conversation than absolutely necessary.  ZA was significantly better at holding a conversation, and the kids really liked him for that fact.  It took me a few days to realize it, but DAS and BA were political appointees, i.e. politicians.  ZA was a career foreign service officer, so he had started at the bottom stamping visa applications and worked his way up through the ranks to become an Ambassador.  This stark contrast definitely solidified the view that politicians only talk to you when they want something and then don’t want to be bothered once they have met their objective. 

One of the things I disliked about these three officials being at the exchange was that they treated everything as if it was a photo op.  They never talked to the kids.  They were always reading speeches, which drove me nuts.  The press wasn’t there.  So what was the point of reading all these prepared statements?  The kids had no idea what they were saying because they failed to use high school English.  The perfect example was when BA decided to lead a session on gender-based violence.  At no point in time did she explain the concept of gender-based violence.  After her ten minute monologue about how it was bad we were broken up into groups with the kids to lead them in discussion about gender-based violence using questions we had been given.  I quickly realized my group of six was lost.  I asked them if they knew what gender-based violence was.  They all shook their heads no.
Sadly, by the last day, even my admiration for ZA, the only semi-human of the three, had dissipated.  During a session he made a statement about how GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were the future of Africa.  No matter how hard he might try to convince me, he and I can NEVER be friends now.

Despite my disappointment with the three diplomats, there was one thing I loved.  During a “formal” dinner- is there such a thing in Africa?- they were heavily involved in making their speeches.  The venue had windows without glass; it was nighttime and the bugs were entering the building en mass.  This would have been the perfect time to have gone off script and perhaps not used the speeches, but they were all determined to get their time in front of the 30 high schoolers who were paying absolutely no attention and were busy catching the bugs and lighting them on fire using the candles on their tables.  (Insert laughter here.)  Sadly, the only picture I have of the bug fiasco is horribly out of focus, but I think this lets you imagine the scene for yourself:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Youth Exchange (Part Deux)

As I mentioned yesterday, back in December I worked with the U.S. Embassy on a youth exchange program.  If you haven’t heard about it you can read here about the portion which took place in Botswana.  After the two days in Botswana were completed we all crossed the border into Zimbabwe.  There is nothing more chaotic than trying to take 30 high school students, 12 high school teacher chaperones, about a dozen U.S. Embassy staffers (half from the Botswana embassy, half from the Zimbabwe embassy), two Ambassadors and a Deputy Secretary of State through a border crossing (two actually).  I think it took about three hours to get processed out of Botswana and into Zimbabwe.

Once we got to Zimbabwe we went to the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo where another Fulbright Professor gave a talk on water conservation.  I actually learned a lot.  For instance, did you know that the average human utilizes between 1,000 and 6,000 liters of water per day?  That’s right, here’s his powerpoint slide which states it:
We also visited the Natural History Museum which had a TON of specimens on display, the Khami Ruins, and Matobo National Park and Rhino Reserve where I learned that if you are suspected of being a poacher you will be “shot on sight, no questions asked.”

During our game drive in Matobo as I was sitting in the back of the vehicle I peered through the back windshield and saw this:
YES! A messy dashboard.  No! Not that!  Look closer.  It is a Texas Tech University baseball cap.  Apparently a group of students from Tech were at the National Park over Thanksgiving break.  I forget which department they were from, either an animal or science based department obviously, but they had been there for a week to study the rhinos.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chaperoning a Youth Exchange

Back during the first week of December the U.S. Embassy hosted a youth exchange program.  Fifteen high school students from Botswana and fifteen from Zimbabwe were involved, along with six teachers from each country.  The first two days were spent in Francistown in Botswana and then the following two days the entire group was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  Last night I went to an event at the U.S. Embassy and as I was speaking to someone about the exchange I realized I completely forgot to blog about it.  I did put up a video from Siyaya, one of the groups that performed, but I never talked about the exchange itself.

The theme for the exchange was “Conservation, Health and Economic Opportunities.”  I was asked by Amanda, my Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy, if I would come along and do a session on tourism since wildlife protection, water and sustainability were all part of the agenda.  I agreed and since I was invited to come along for the entire week to help out I figured, why not?

Overall the exchange was exhausting but a lot of fun.  When the group was on the Botswana side of the border we stayed on a nature reserve where we went on a game drive:
Had a presentation by CDC about nutrition and sexual health, did a career panel with a number of community leaders, and did community service projects.  My group was responsible to cleaning up a community center, which included collecting, installing garbage bins and planting trees:
As with any event, there were a number of funny (and at times, frustrating) hiccups along the way.  For instance, the contact at the nature reserve agreed to arrange a bus to pick up the Botswana kids to drive them an hour to the reserve.  I was standing at the school with fifteen kids, six teachers and at least two dozen pieces of luggage when a combi pulled up playing deafening reggae music.  A combi, for those of you less familiar is a family sized van which holds about 10-12 people VERY uncomfortably.  You cannot fit any luggage or really anything larger than a purse which can sit on your lap in a combi because everyone is squeezed in so tightly.  I calmly called Amanda (the Embassy PAO in charge of the Botswana portion of the exchange) and asked for permission to take matters into my own hands.  Once said permission was obtained the person at the nature reserve realized he made a grave mistake and I would be all over him to get this right until the minute we departed for Zim.  I guess it is the event planner in me.

I also took one for the team when, just as we were getting prepared to start our very first session, I discovered, quite painfully, that there was a huge wasp nest directly over the door.  So you basically couldn’t get in or out without being attacked.  Apparently wasps are my kryptonite, because those stings all over my back, neck and shoulders lasted about three weeks.

But, one of the best/worst funny moments happened on the first night at the reserve.  The kids and teachers were actually camping on the reserve.  The rest of the Embassy staffers (myself included) were staying an hour away at a hotel in town.  We were so exhausted that first day and desperate to get back to our hotels in order to get some sleep.  After driving 45 minutes from the campsite to the gate of the reserve we had to stop in order to open up the gates.  I jumped out of the SUV, ran up to the gate to find it chained and locked.  Keep in mind it was about 11:30pm and there was no cell phone reception in the reserve.  I turned around to the two vehicles anxiously watching me and shook my head.  They thought I was kidding.  After searching around the shed next to the gate we found a key and managed to let ourselves out.  No such thing as a dull moment in the wilderness.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

TechAnnounce: The Monkeys are on a Rampage

At Texas Tech, the IT department sends out a daily email to all faculty, students, staff members and anyone else who has an account on the TTU email system.  The email is called TechAnnounce.  Anyone who belongs to TTU can post an announcement so long as it is university related and approved by the TechAnnounce gods.  Today’s TechAnnounce included 58 postings for things such as study abroad courses, opportunities to participate in research studies, a lecture from a visiting scholar, and my personal favorite: Zumba.

University of Botswana has something similar to TechAnnounce.  Nope, let me take that back.  UB has a system in place which is the antithesis of TechAnnounce.   Everyone makes fun of me because I always read TechAnnounce.  Now even more people will make fun of me since I admit I read it every day while living in Africa.  But I do appreciate it because it allows me to keep up with university news and share relevant information in my classes that may be of interest to my students.

Here at UB people use the email system as their personal communication tool.  And EVERYONE uses it.  And they send everything to EVERYONE.  And even worse, they CC EVERYONE and then hit REPLY ALL.  Sometimes we get useful information.  But UBAnnounce tends to be more along the lines of professors sending out posters about the house they are selling or soliciting new clients for their Herbalife business.  Every time someone dies a death announcement is sent out to the entire university.  Often the death announcement is followed up with five dozen emails attempting to organize transportation to the village on the edge of the Khalari Desert for anyone interested in attending.

Today there were two separate UBAnnouncements which struck me as unique, something I would never expect to see back home.  The first was an email from a professor on campus with the subject line: Nelson Mandela’s Will.  The only message was “FYI” along with a scanned copy of Nelson Mandela’s will attached, all 42 pages with signatures and everything.  I don’t know why I need this information, but I will admit I did skim it.  If anyone is interested let me know and I can forward it to you, or write a blog post bullet  pointing who got $300,000, who got $100,000, who got 100,000Rand, and how the homes were divvied up.

The other interesting UBAnnoucement was probably the most useful, but also most unusual email I’ve received since I arrived here.  Subject line: The monkeys are on a rampage.  The email went on to explain that everyone on campus needed to be extra careful to ensure their windows, doors, cars and personal belongings were “secured because the monkeys are on a rampage.” 

Now, I have had my own share of monkey problems, literately.  I absolutely appreciate a heads up that the monkeys are acting out and stealing more than usual.  But when I read that cars needed to be secured it reminded me of the scene from Jurassic Park where the old man owner says that the dinosaurs are so smart they have problem solving capabilities.  Then I flashed back to when the velociraptors were chasing the kids.  The kids hid and one said to the other, “Do you think we are safe?” The other child replied, “Yeah, as long as they don’t figure out how to open doors.”  What happened next? Yup! The velociraptor opened the door!  This made me wonder if the monkeys have learned to open car doors.

To borrow a favorite phrase of my father, here in Africa “I am often amazed but seldom surprised.”  Who knows? Maybe next time I will see the monkeys driving cars they have stolen.  I will keep you posted.
An example of TechAnnounce for anyone interested: